E3 News: Playstation Vita, Home Console Gaming Gets a Tad More Portable
In previous previews, the Vita looked extremely attractive. It boasted specs and visuals that were to rival the home console standards of this generation (PS3 and Xbox 360), also sporting a complete set of classic gaming controls and newer inputs like touch-screens and motion sensing. Many expected that the Vita would not be able to compete in price with Nintendo’s new recent handheld, the 3DS, with such impressive tech. Even after rumors that the system had some specs dialed down to better price compete, few expected the system to be lower than $300. Lo and behold, at the press conference, Sony had a price (two prices actually) to give on the final Vita hardware. A 3G and WiFi enabled version would retail for $299.99 while the WiFi only version would cost only $249.99. Much applause ensued.
The biggest concern was the price. The 3G model will only be compatible with AT&T services (which people have mixed feelings on) and how data plans may work for it were not discussed, so what hidden costs may come with owning the 3G model are yet unaccounted for. Now, the only point left to make was games worth buying the system for.
Sony had on hand plenty of first party support with Killzone, Uncharted, Wipe Out, Mod Nation Racer, and Little Big Planet to have full installments on the handheld eventually. Some new IP’s especially for Vita were announced like Little Deviants, showing off the possible applications between the front touch-screen and back touch-panel, Reality Fighter, demonstrating the AR abilities of the system, and Ruin, an action RPG set to showcase connectivity between the PS Vita and PS3. Third party support isn’t lacking either, with Street Fighter X Tekken announced for the system, Blazblue, Ridge Racer, Virtua Tennis 4, Hot Shots Golf, Dynasty Warriors, and a new Bioshock all headed for the platform in the future.
On-stage demonstrations depicted graphics comparable to the PS3. While not perfectly matching or exceeding the consoles, the visuals by far out-match the PSP’s and even Nintendo 3DS. The most convincing of the on stage demonstrations was the Uncharted installment, subtitled Golden Abyss. The graphic fidelity was up to par with the home console editions (at least not disgraceful by comparison), and presented smart ways in which the classic controls and touch commands could overlap to provide accessible experiences. Players could choose to use touch commands to navigate and interact with the environment, or stick to classic controls. Best of all, you could use them in combination without adjusting any settings.
The Playstation Vita is the first major portable gaming system to feature two analog sticks, actual sticks, along with the traditional four face buttons, D-pad, and two shoulder buttons. This now- standard setup should guarantee that many console level designs should be easily transitioned to the portable platform. The systems’ main screen is a 5” capacitive touch screen while the back of the unit has a capacitive touch-panel the same size as the screen. These two touch interfaces usually have alternating functions such as in Little Deviants. If you press on the back panel, the environment of Little Deviants pushes upwards, while pressing on the screen will make the environment concave.
The system also features a front facing camera, a back facing camera, and a microphone. These will enable the system to play Augmented Reality games. One such game on display was Reality Fighters, where you can pick from pre-selected fighting styles and impose your face or your friends’ on to characters, then have them duke it out over the environment around you.
Sony also plans to provide new social interaction software through a service called “Near.” Players will be able to see when other players are around them, how far away they are, what they are playing, add them to their friend list, and chat with them via video and voice.
Then there is Ruin. The best example of what could be the future of portable and home console gaming. Slated to come to PS3 and Vita, Ruin will allow a player to keep their save data going between both systems, picking up progress on either platform without sacrifice. On stage, it was demonstrated how a player can start a game on the portable, save the game to a Cloud storage system, boot up the PS3 version and pick up the game right from where it was saved on the portable.
In later interviews, Sony admitted that the connectivity between the PS3 and Vita is being driven by developer request. Sony originally wasn’t planning on such in-depth connectivity, but developers have been tossing around ideas bridging the gap between the platforms and Sony has decided to oblige with their requests.
Vita has dropped the UMD format from the previous PSP in favor of physical flash cart storage. Sony says that games will release in a retail package on the flash carts while games will be available to download in a pure digital form from the Playstation Network on the same day as their retail releases. The system will support Memory sticks, possibly SD cards. The amount of on-board storage wasn’t discussed. The system will be backwards compatible with any PSP games available on the Playstation Network, as long as you downloaded them. There will be no redemption of physical game copies.
The Playstation Vita is set to release this holiday season in the US. Final launch title line-up and whether the 3G version will be in the states haven’t been confirmed. With a price point that many can accept, it’s only a matter of developer support that will determine the success of the system. The capabilities are certainly impressive and developers are taking notice. Keep your eyes peeled for more information as the holiday season draws closer.
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